The Shack Explosion

When Gandalf described the creature Gollum to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring, he provided a glimpse into our human dilemma: “He hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself. He will never be rid of his need for it,” Gandalf said.

What is true of Gollum and the Ring is true of me and debate about The Shack, a novel by William Paul Young which has sold 25 million copies in 41 languages since it was published ten years ago. I read the book when someone in another place asked for my feedback because of all the controversy. That was long ago. I had all but forgotten about it. But the saga was only beginning.

This month The Shack was released as a Hollywood movie. The furor has ignited all over again. There may be even more heat the second time around, if that’s possible. This time I don’t have a horse in the race–nobody has asked me about it. But I can’t stay away from the controversy. It draws me in like the Ring ensnared Gollum.

The debate over The Shack is something like a David vs. Goliath story. The author, William Paul Young, was a nobody in the religious publishing world. Not a single Christian publisher would touch the book. Finally, Young self-published The Shack with the help of Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings, who continue to defend the book and movie. In the other corner, critics include true theological heavyweights such as Al Mohler, Tim Challies, Norm Geisler, and the late Chuck Colson. So far the giants haven’t been able to stop the cultural wave created by the little guys.

After three or four hours of searching, reading, and listening online, a few quotes stood out, most of them by Wayne Jacobsen, one of the original collaborators who helped publish The Shack:

From a critic: The Shack is a wonderful, delightful tool of Satan to deceive those who can’t, don’t, or won’t put the effort it takes into [sic] discern the word of God versus the word of an author who has publicly pronounced god as inadequate and has replaced him with this drivel. 

Lots of heat in that quote. Very little light. Is this really a matter of effort? Critics pronounce judgment and drop the “H” word (heresy) like an H-bomb. Name calling is abundant among the critics. Maybe they’re frustrated because the Christian public doesn’t seem to be listening to them.

Wayne Jacobsen (who helped publish the original book): They [specific critics] don’t have honest disagreement with what we wrote, but make up their own interpretations of what we wrote and disagree with it.

Both sides seem to be talking past each other.

Another complaint by Jacobsen: One of the early detractors for The Shack was trying to build a cottage industry out of being the anti-Shack guy. He called me a few months after it was published offering to write a devotional guide to go along with the book. I asked him what he had in mind and he told me he wanted to help people mine the deep truths we’d written about. Having read his previous disdain for the book, I confronted him for his dishonesty. He didn’t want to unpack the story for people, but to attack it. He was surprised I knew and quickly hung up.

If this is accurate, it exposes the depravity and dishonesty by a participant in the Shack controversy. If it’s not accurate, it exposes the depravity and dishonesty by a different participant in the controversy.

A final quote, also by Jacobsen: I love the conversation this book has provoked around the world. I love the conversations about who is God really?

If one of his goals has been to stimulate conversation about the nature of God, he has accomplished his mission.

There are numerous reports about people who have experienced positive life change as a result of their encounter with The Shack. Perhaps time will tell whether the effect is positive in the long term. Someday this Ring of debate will be thrown into the fires of Mt. Doom and destroyed. Until then, may it not consume us. It’s not worth it. There are better things demanding our attention than an argument over a film.